The news hit the South Carolina political landscape late Friday like a hammer …
Former state representative and code commissioner Jim Harrison was found guilty by a jury of his peers of misconduct in office and perjury before a statewide grand jury – and sentenced to eighteen months in prison by S.C. circuit court judge Carmen Mullen.
Harrison becomes the first defendant in the sprawling, multi-year #ProbeGate investigation to receive prison time, although S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe has appealed a probationary sentence awarded to one defendant.
Pascoe has also hinted his work is not done …
Nonetheless, the announcement of Harrison’s eighteen-month sentence was a disarming break from the established biorhythms of this four-year investigation into public corruption in state government. In previous cases, defendants would angrily denounce the charges against them only to cut deals at the last minute to avoid prosecution and prison time.
Inhale, exhale … inhale, exhale.
It happened in the case of former S.C. speaker of the House Bobby Harrell. It happened in the case of former Senate president John Courson. It happened in the case of former House majority leader Jimmy Merrill. And it happened in the case of another former majority leader, Rick Quinn – whose father Richard Quinn emerged over time as the nexus of this multi-faceted investigation.
News of the Quinns’ proximity to this probe was exclusively reported by this news site in April of 2016. It soon came to dominate the headlines associated with the investigation – which implicated numerous elected officials and corporate powerhouses in alleged pay-to-play schemes.
Richard Quinn – arguably the most influential strategist the Palmetto State has ever seen – was originally charged with criminal conspiracy by Pascoe, but that charge was dropped last December as part of his son’s plea agreement. Quinn’s Columbia, S.C.-based firm did agree to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of failing to register as a lobbyist and paid a nominal fine.
Inhale, (deep) exhale …
This biorhythm came to an abrupt halt late Friday evening at the Richland County, S.C. courthouse in downtown Columbia – just down the street from the seat of state government where Harrison spent nearly thirty years as powerful legislative leader and, later, as head of the agency that maintains the state’s code of laws.
Harrison, 67, decided to roll the dice in front of a jury.
He lost. Badly.
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We don’t know …
Did Harrison deserve jail time? We believe so.
It gives us no pleasure to say that (we have always like Harrison on a personal level), but it remains the unfortunate truth of the situation.
During his time in the state legislature, the 67-year-old politician received more than $900,000 in undisclosed income from Richard Quinn’s firm – claiming after-the-fact that the money was for “political work.” No such work could be uncovered, and as Pascoe repeatedly pointed out Harrison “sponsored, co-sponsored and voted on legislation that favored clients of (Quinn).”
Not only that, emails unearthed during last week’s trial revealed that when some of these corporate accounts dried up – Harrison was forced to take a reduction in his “secret salary.”
That bit of evidence was particularly damning … and Harrison had nothing resembling a plausible explanation for it.
But why did Pascoe focus on him?
In a ranking of high-value targets related to this investigation, Harrison was nowhere near the top of the list.
Why is he now the first – and possibly the only – disgraced politician to receive a prison sentence in connection with this investigation?
The obvious answer is that he refused to take a plea deal. And prior to that, he lied to a statewide grand jury about his work for Quinn (according to the Richland County jury that found him guilty of perjury).
Those two decisions clearly complicated his position and compounded his problems … basically boxing him into his fate.
Was Harrison too prideful to accept the sort of public indignity meted out to his former colleagues? Or did he simply receive bad legal advice as it related to the strength of the case against him? Or … did he have something prosecutors wanted? Something he refused to give them?
Or … was it a combination of all those factors?
Again … we don’t know. We may never know.
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We feel bad for Harrison and his family. Honestly, we do. We genuinely hate to see him/ them going through something like this.
In years past, this news outlet used to relish in its mile-wide vindictive streak and fully indulge the healthy sense of schadenfreude we had for those who violated the public trust (or misappropriated tax dollars). And make no mistake: As we did at every step of this investigation, we will continue to expose those who violate this trust and misappropriate those resources – and insist that they are held accountable for their actions.
But we derive no joy from watching the suffering of others … even if it is of their own making. It is necessary justice, not a cause for celebration.
Speaking of justice, we have some thoughts to offer soon as to whether this investigation – which is clearly winding down – has achieved anything resembling it over the course of the last four years.
Stay tuned for that piece …
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